|Yes ~ It’s white night ~ No comment|
What challenges us to confront pride, privilege, and ones intrinsic value in the span of a week? I’ll tell you what. Sitting in the middle of a vast ocean, encased in a metal tomb, struggling to maintain ones precarious balance on life. We call this cruising, and by the way this is a voluntary activity, in fact we pay dearly for the privilege. But it’s like Helen Keller claims, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
I agreed to join this micro community if you will, for seven days, with five close friends (one being my husband). The Crystal Symphony is equipped with all the deceptions of modern society, but also a mixture of extravagant and decadent possibilities, your only limitation…a lack of imagination.
This is the sort of thing you remunerate to join, it’s as exclusive as a country club, but your membership expires in a week. Heaven and Earth were made in the same amount of time and God only knows what will become of this affable creation? And by the way, if the serpent comes along and offers me an apple, I’m going for it, just sayin.
As in every good story our feral adventure includes a cast of cheery characters, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental: Jim (Celebrant), Sue (Conductor), Larry (Comrade), Cheryl (Chronicler), Ron (Chief), and Debbie (Cinematographer).
See what I did there?
Did ya now?
We might all stem from Campbell California but we come from a litany of diverse professions, personalities, and persuasions. We are a motley crew and this will be our saving grace or early demise.
Our journey began with a smooth landing in the beautiful city of Vancouver BC, a waterfront town lined with such dense structures you’d have thought God constructed the whole thing with a box of Legos. Thankfully she added lots of coffee shops, bistros, Lululemon, and the world’s best gelato, which Larry dragged us all over town to find. Never mind our bloody and blistered feet. Mission accomplished.
Vancouver is essentially a miniature Hong Kong, in fact thousands of Chinese settled in Vancouver in the late 1980s, because of uncertainty about what would happen when the UK handed the governance of Hong Kong over to the People’s Republic of China. They’ve not only influenced the transformation of Vancouver from toxic landfill, to high density housing, but rumor has it they’ve been doing a lot of laundering.
For three days we scoured this industrialized city on foot, bike, and taxi exploring every nook and cranny of this remote wonderland. We walked the Capilano Suspension Bridge, exploring the grounds, and enjoying the extraordinary views. Then we were off to Grouse Mountain for the infamous lumberjack show, snow lifts rides, and the highlight had to be Coola and Ginder (captive grizzly bears) who put on a playful display.
The Westin put us up with spectacular views of the harbor and access to all the pleasures of downtown. Larry adopted a new name, George Looney, due to his uncanny resemblance to George Clooney (self identified I might add), but there was this one woman who insisted on a picture nonetheless, Jim was egging her on. What can you do?
We sort of ate and drank our way around the city and now that three quarters of my clothes no longer fit we’re ready to board ship! All I can say is thank God for Spanx.
It’s as if we’ve landed on a floating Vegas with the devil himself dangling the most enticing trinkets right in front of our noses, all for our personal pleasure, and that of eight hundred other unassuaged passengers. Every type of food, booze, music, and entertainment, is available, even jewels, you just have to ask.
A motto organically emerge, “cuz I can,” try to reserve judgement, we’re on vacation. You will never hear a “no” while aboard ship irregardless of the obscurity of the request. I’ve come to believe they taser the crew if they fail to affirm all passenger generated demands? Shocking, I know.
And oddly enough our status is now defined by the level of ones sleeping quarters. The higher the loft the higher the status. Rooms on the upper floors come with a damn butler, as if Beverly Hills was slapped right on top of Burbank, with Hollywood located somewhere in the bowels of the ship. Jim and Sue have taken to hosting private cocktail parities in their suite so we all get a taste of the good life. Generosity being a virtue and all.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Ibn Battuta
We agreed to join this circus on the same pretense, that of celebrating Jim’s sixtieth birthday, and a maiden voyage to Alaska, but truth be told we’re actually honoring our passage from middle-age to elderly ~ it’s a harsh world and we’re cruising. As Martin Buber writes, all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. I thought we were exploring the great Northwest, but oh we discovered so much more, espresso martinis for one.
The preparations were intense, it’s not as if we randomly trade in our normal lifestyle for one with complex daily schedules, extensive wardrobe requirements, and a strange fulfillment culture? Not that one would, but you can order a latte in the middle of the night, with a side of bacon, and a scoop of sea salt gelato. It’s only a matter of how reckless and wild and indiscriminate your imagination can be.
Try packing for temperatures that are known to vary 60 degrees in the span of a single day, for fine dining to kayaking, along with working out to something you’d find in John Travolta’s closet? It’s a logistical nightmare, by the grace of God my suitcase not only zipped (with the encouragement of my ass), but weighed in only a pound over the required fifty. That’s a frinkin miracle because God loves me best.
How do you load a ship with the express purpose of complying with eight hundred fantasies? Now granted these fantasies manifest from an elderly group (average age on board is around 65) but those of us born in the 60’s have “interesting” experiences to draw from if you get my drift, and the scary part, we’re not afraid to ask. Let me just say it’s no Love Boat.
The boarding process is impressive. We are categorized, verified, and funneled on board with the efficiency of the military, only you’re handed a glass of champagne upon arrival, and seated for lunch. Hello, this is my kind of vacation.
Somehow our bags magically appear in our rooms, along with chocolates, wine, and vouchers (Thank you Melissa). I can spend several hundred dollars while we float, that’s right, the hell with tight clothes, and conservative jewelry. Never mind what Antoine de St. Exupery says about he who travels happily must travel light. Clearly a dudes perspective.
Tonight is Jim’s night! To his parents delight he popped into the world some 21,900 days ago and has been polishing his act ever since. It was enough to capture Sue’s heart so there’s that. Speaking of Sue, our acting conductor, she has scored us a table at the infamous Umi Uma and our plan is to order so much sushi that we become a little fishy, and then we’re hoping to flop around on some obscure dance floor, fish out of water sort of thing.
After dinner we stumbled into the first lounge we came upon, and to our utmost delight the talented piano player Colin Salter was entertaining the crowds, our untrained voices joined in a rather loud rendition of Piano Man, and now that I think about it we are sort of gifted vocalist? I’m sure everyone else thought so too. Especially the over-poured, middle-aged, bombshell who attempted to seduce every man in the room. We’ll refer to her here on out as Mrs. Robinson, I had to rescue Looney several times, but she kept coming back for more. Persistent vixen.
We found our rooms just after midnight with Mrs. Robinson no where in site. We’re going to consider that a successful first day at sea.
When I stood up to use the facilities in the wee hours of the morning I realized we are in uncharted territory, the motion is slightly nauseating (the wine we consumed had nothing to do with it), and now we all know there is a step up to the bathroom. Cesare Pavese says of travel, you are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.
We may have slept like the dead but were fortunate to wake up in a heavenly bed, rested, revived, and renewed. Larry ordered coffee and fruit from room service but before I could run my fingers through my hair the porter was knocking at the door? I could get used to this lifestyle although I’m trying to resist (not).
Seeing this is our first day at sea we individualized our activities. There was lots of eating of course but also massages, workouts, and lectures to attend, as for me, I planted my butt in the lounge, with my computer, and unlimited lattes. “Cuz I can.”
After a few hours of sipping latte’s, writing, and drinking in the glorious views, Larry dragged us all to a lecture on the types of animals we might encounter on our Alaskan journey? We learned more than we’ll ever need to know about raccoons, beavers, moose, and bears. Did you know bears do not eat, drink, or defecate while in hibernation? Think of the money you’d save on food, sparkling water, and toilet paper?
The next thing we know Larry is dragging us to another deck to watch a movie about making a movie? He promised popcorn so we agreed. A few of you may have heard of the award wining film Loving Van Gogh, it’s sort of a docudrama about the life of Vincent Van Gogh (spoiler, his short life ends in tragedy), but they use his art as canvas for the story. In laborious detail we watched an entire movie about the process of creating a movie, “cuz we can.”
After spotting a few whales off the Lido deck Larry, Debbie, Ron, and I went to the Palm room for an expresso martini. Unbeknownst to us there was a high tea in process, but as I’ve noted before the crew is trained to accommodate, and although we were dressed in very casual fair, we were served cocktails, with our tea sandwiches. Magnifico.
We had just enough time to shower and change before heading up (as in Beverly Hills) to Jim and Sue’s suite for sushi and cocktails. Their private butler, Zoltan, ever so helpful, laid out a spread as if we were royalty. I thought he was going to feed us our sushi right from the plate with a gloved hand, but he did a deep bow, and left us to our own devices.
Ron says, “We should do this every night!”
In unison, “Cuz we can.”
For dinner we decided on the Brazilian Steak House because unlimited meat is just what we need. Seating our crew at a table for six they slap slice after slice of cooked flesh onto our plates for what seemed like hours. Skewers of beef, lamb, pork, and various sausages were presented to the table until you bellied up and turned your yes card to no. All I can say is holy cow. I had to unbutton my slacks, pop some Pepto-Bismol before bed, and I plan on joining the vegetarian cult come morning.
We woke up just as we’re pulling into Juneau, an isolated community off the southern arm of Alaska, only accessible by boat or sea plane or Santa’s sleigh. So you can only imagine the inbreeding but that’s beside the point.
We’re all in a tizzy about our kayaking adventure to a glacier this afternoon, the weather has turned rather warm, so we’re layering. Larry rises early, orders coffee, and heads out to walk the deck with a bunch of other zealous walkers. Total peacocks, I stay tucked in bed, coffee pot within reach (everything is within reach in our room), and my computer. I’m happy as a pig rolling in the mud (try not to visualize). I see the heads of my companions pass my window every four minutes. Whatever.
An hour later Looney bursts into our room all sweaty and out of breath. I glance up from my throne. He hits the floor for ten push ups, I lift the coffee for another pour, he says, “some lady in the gym said my pushups were quite impressive,” I raise a speculative brow? He says, “I thought you might want a glimpse.”
I’m not sure that requires a response but I involuntarily wince? Not the same.
After a much needed shower we head down to breakfast. The buffet closes at 10 but another one opens right next store, they sort of out the late sleepers by association. We arrived at turnover so I pocketed some bacon and headed over to Silk for an omelet, home fries, and toast. Looney says, “I don’t eat bread,” as he’s ordering a croissant and buttermilk pancakes? He claims, “it’s a pastry,” and then he eats half my english muffin. They call this marriage, for better or for worse, for lucid or insane.
Disembarking the ship is easy as the Crystal Symphony has scored a place at the dock. The first thing I notice is the extraordinary landscape, the word lush is insufficient, and epic might not cut it either. A bald eagle sores just above our heads as if welcoming us to Juneau. Extraordinary. It’s vast, as far as the eye can see there is thick forest, jagged snow topped mountains, with gorgeous waterfalls, I’m totally enamored.
We decide to head over early for a walk about town. There are way too many trinket shops, a few rustic restaurants and bars, and hundreds of jewelry stores? Now why in the world would you go all the way to Juneau to buy a necklace? We explored the entire town in under an hour, re-boarded the ship for a late lunch, and short nap. This is the life.
Rendezvousing at the designated location for our much awaited Kayaking adventure we are highly disappointed to find out our trip has been canceled due to high wind. Clearly we are no longer on the ship, and these people have not been properly taser trained, it was a hard no, without remorse.
After some grumbling we adjust to our no excursion status and run over to the tram for tickets to the top of the mountain. We get the AAA discount and que up by the trams. This is when we find out the electricity is out, they been using diesel to fuel the trams, and it’s not going well. Back down to the teller for a refund, but she forgot the AAA discount, and we made seven bucks on the deal. I chalk it up to hardship.
Time to get back on the ship where nothing gets canceled, declined, or refused. Lala land.
Tonight we’re meeting at Silk for dinner, a modern Chinese-inspired fare with family-style dinning. We consumed generous servings of dumplings, pork chops, scallop rolls, lemon chicken, spring rolls, wontons, and other specialties. Of course we over ordered, over ate, and over stayed our welcome, “cuz we can.”
We close out the evening sipping red wine on the stern of the boat, watching an endless sunset, without a breeze. It was surreal (my new favorite word). We depart Juneau just after midnight and head to Skagway, which shares a simular pronunciation with segue, a verb that means “to move without stopping from one place to another.” This is how the whole trip has felt, this vast untamed wilderness as if a movie, passing before our thirsty eyes.
As Mark Twain says, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, cuz you can!
- We live like we are on a pleasure cruise, when we are really on a rescue mission from God. Reinhard Bonnke
- “Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” -Lawrence Block
- “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” Jack Kerouac